In our blog, you’ll find information about metaphysics and spirituality from Lazaris and Jach, excerpts from Lazaris recordings and interviews, and travelogues from Jach’s adventures around the world.
From the Taj Mahal in Agra, we bused our way to Delhi. It’s the capital of India. Eighteen million people. I expected to experience a big city that could be any big city in the world. I was wrong. Delhi, the old Indian city, and New Delhi, the city that the British created, weave together to create an intricate complexity that has a surprising high resonance. I felt an excitement in Delhi; there seemed to be a buoyant pride and an imposing confidence in the potential of India and in the Indian future. And besides, we met a faerie in Delhi. More on that at another time.
We visited a huge mosque -- the largest in India -- but it was the Gandhi Memorial that spoke to my soul. After India’s independence, Ghandi, almost 80 years old, was staying at the residence of a powerful Indian family, the Birla Family. From his bedroom, Ghandhi walked the pathway to the garden to participate in evening prayers. Along the way he was assassinated. We didn’t walk the path, but we walked beside until the steps stopped. I stood there for a very long time. Silent. Still. Blurry eyed and reverent. It was a quiet highlight of this journey.
We traveled by train from Delphi to Haridwar and then by car to Richikesh. People in India drive exactly like they drive in Colombia. Wild and crazy. Insane. I rode in the front seat of the car we were in and I had a grand time. I love driving in Colombia and I love riding in a car in India.
Rishikesh is a city along the Ganges River best noted for the Ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the home of TM, where the Beatles spent time in 1968 -- 50 years ago. We visited the ashram. It was abandoned in 1971 when the Maharishi left for the Netherlands. It was eery and wonderful.
I could feel the laughter: George and Paul and maybe John. Mia Farrow along with her sister were there. Donovan was there. I could feel the color and the light. The light and the enthusiasm were vibrant. Innocence and eagerness blossomed then. Yet now the loss and the emptiness were almost overwhelming. Abandonment. Forgotten. After there time in the ashram, the Beatles broke up, and each one of them went their own way.. They came to India and the ashram to find themselves. Maybe they did. We didn’t like it, but maybe they did find themselves. Could be.
Once a world famous ashram, now it is Rajiji, a tiger reserve. The buildings are decaying with black algae slowing covering the walls. Broken glass and rotting wood window frames. Weeds growing through the broken concrete. The kitchen, the post office, the printing room, the meditation rooms, the Beatles bungalow, the Maharishi’s bungalow, and the roof top where they all gathered. The memories are all there and the vestiges of that time are also still there. Decaying. Rotting. Yet still clinging to life. It was eery. Depressing and exhilarating.
Rishikesh was our last stop in India. We arrived on September 15. We are leaving on September 30. Only 15 days? No. A lifetime. We are currently in Kathmandu and we are going trekking for the next three days. In the Himalayas, in the quiet villages, and there I will sit with my experiences of India.
It wasn’t what I expected and I suspect it was more.
The Taj Mahal at dawn. I had images in my head: A magical moment, a solitary moment with that majestic structure and its grand gardens. I imagined that a full moon would set just as the sun would rise and it would be a memorable moment, maybe even a defining one. In my imagination, I stood alone, just the Taj Mahal and me.
Once again on the bus at 5:30 for a 10 minute drive to the bus parking lot and then a golf cart type bus ride to the entrance. The moon was amber and, yes, it was full. However there were hundreds of people already there and bus loads of people were arriving by the minute. Scrap the solitary moment.
We got in the men’s queue and waited for the gate to open. We moved quickly and orderly through security and then through the gate. I stood there alone among hundreds of people who, in that moment, all disappeared. I stood alone suspended in silence being held by beauty. The right side of the dome shown bright. Dazzling, while the left side remained in soft shadow. I thought of the quotation: “Beauty is a demanding lover.” I had understood that at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I understood it again this morning. Majestic is too small a word.
Everyone I had talked to had said that the Taj Mahal was so much more than could be captured in photographs. I took photos, and they were right. Even so, I wanted to record a moment. I wanted to create an iconic symbol of a moment that is eternal.
Finally I moved. I walked slowly forward, then down the steps and along the pathway. A long fountain and then a reflective pool to my left and two of the four gardens to my right. Aware of my surroundings, I kept my eye, my focus, on that shimmering white marble sculpture called the Taj Mahal -- that shimmering light that stood there unobstructed against a clear blue sky. There was a reverence there. Serenity. Peace. Sure, there were kids running about and laughing or talking loud, but even they would fall quiet.
Beauty demands respect. It can also awaken respect, and it did.
We were there for only two hours, but when time stops, that is enough.
419 steps. That’s what I figured. There were ramps not actual steps, but I took 12 steps for each inclining ramp, and there were 34 of them. 34 up, up, and more up. At the end, just when I thought I was done, there were 17 stair steps, steep stair steps, to the top of the tower. The views ... there was all of Sevilla. In all directions historic center, old city, new city, expanding city, the river that once was the gateway to the sea, a once thriving trade capital for the Iberian Peninsula and for all of Europe, and now still a growing city finding its new identity. Sevilla. Yes, it was worth the climb.
We had left Madrid Tuesday morning, and we had driven nearly 6 hours to arrive at our hotel in Sevilla, a grand city that is still the capital of the Andalucía region here in Spain. Our hotel, an actual palace in the 1700s, had been restored, refurbished, and transformed into a boutique hotel close to the historic center of Sevilla.
After we checked in, it was early enough to go exploring so off we went. We walked for nearly 2 hours and finally stopped at a delightful restaurant advertising tapas and wine. It was Michelin rated and the food was excellent. It was after 10:00 when we walked out into the cool crisp night air. A sliver moon over head and we were content. Fulfilled. We turned on the GPS on the iPhone and began our journey back to the hotel. Twisting and turning through the charming tiny streets, past tiny tapas bars and hidden courtyards, and soon we realized we were lost. The GPS voice kept talking but the directions made less and less sense and apparently we were getting further and further away from our hotel. When the GPS said we had 2 more kilometers to go, Enrique hailed a taxi. Our driver laughed and told us that it was impossible to find our hotel with Google Maps. I think he was just being polite. He drove us through a maze of alleyways and in roughly 2 kilometers we were home.
Wednesday: We walked the old town and spent the afternoon at Real Alcázar, the major Moorish and then Catholic palace that is still the Sevilla residence for the current royal family. The palace is breathtakingly beautiful with strong Moorish influences that remain from it inception and that were enhanced in the 15th Century, mainly by Charles V and Isabella, and again in the 16th and 17th Centuries by the Catholic Kings. I came away amazed and sad.
Amazed at the beauty of the Moorish and Muslim traditions expressed in the Royal Alcázar Palace. There was such a sense and respect for the romance of life and such a respect and honoring of beauty. The geometric elegance and excellence were fascinating and mesmerizing. I stood in this room and that one -- rooms meticulously measured and designed and adorned with intricate precise tile patterns or mosaics -- and just took in as much as I could. Almost overwhelmed.
Such beauty, such mysticism, such science, such mastery. My eyes often blurred with tears. “Beauty is eternal.” I remembered.
I also came away sad because of what has happened to that richness and that honoring of humanity and humankind that was so profoundly woven into that tradition. Ignorance, a lack of understanding, along with bigotry, anger, hate, and revenge have ravaged so much of human goodness and truth. I also walked away remembering. “Goodness and Truth shall prevail, and Beauty is eternal.” It’s important to remember. There’s magic in remembering.
Thursday: We spent much of Thursday exploring two churches: “El Salvador Divino” (The Divine Savior) and the Cathedral of Seville. In the 12th Century, the conquering Christians pushed the Moors (Muslims) out of Spain. In Sevilla, the conquerors tore down the majestic Mosque and built an even more massive Cathedral. Not more majestic but more massive. The legend says they wanted to build a Cathedral so that (paraphrase) “All who saw it would think they were madmen.”
The smaller church was amazingly beautiful. Stunning. Currently they are cleaning and preparing the huge statutes that will be carried during next week’s Easter Week Processions. The men will be carrying massive statues that weight tons. The platforms rest on the men’s shoulders. Only their feet show as they march slowly and with precision through the streets of Sevilla from noon until 2:00 a.m. Yeah, 14 hours. Unbelievable, but it’s the tradition; it’s the ritual.
The Cathedral, not so beautiful, is huge. Gigantic. It is the third largest in the world next to St. Peter’s in the Vatican and St Paul’s in London, and it’s the number one largest Gothic cathedral in the world. As we were ready to leave the Cathedral, we decided to climb the tower. It was initially the Mosque Tower. Rather than stairs, there were ramps so that the cleric could ride a horse to the top five times per day to call the people to prayer. The Christians didn’t destroy the tower. Instead they added height to it, and the two architectural styles are evident. As I walked I counted steps. Each ramp, 12 to 14 steps so I did the math at 12 steps. For someone young, eager, and naive, it probably would be 10 steps per ramp, but I am not young or naive, so 12 steps. It was a worthy and fitting finish to our church/Cathedral exploration.
Within that historic center there’s the Santa Cruz barrio which is notorious for its even narrower streets that interweave to create a seemingly endless maze. It’s easy to get lost; we did a couple of times. It’s an enchanting area of the city. Tiny shops, tapas bars, small houses with their interior courtyards normally hidden from view, little garden parks, and more tiny alleyways leading to who know where. We returned to this area several times in the daylight just to explore and to feel the energies and to get lost. So alive.
Friday we are on the road again heading to Arco de la Frontera, one of the “Pueblos Blancos” -- the white villages -- of the Andalucía region.
We bought our tickets late Sunday night. We had slept most of the morning adjusting to the six hour time change. It was sunny, brilliant sun, luminously bright, and crisp, refreshingly crisp, sharp, when we began wandering Metro Centro in Madrid. Our first stop was Plaza del Sol and as we were walking into the vast open space the name was obvious. There were hundreds of people strolling through the plaza, a Mariachi Band was playing by the central statue as perhaps 200 people, families with kids and pets, looked on. Enrique stopped to get a Sim card so he could stay in touch with the world, and then we checked our map and headed off to walk the narrow streets. I’ve mentioned it before, I am enamored with the architecture of the apartment buildings that line the narrow streets. There aren’t any daring designs like the Gaudi designs in Barcelona, but there is something that speaks to me. I suppose that something speaks to my soul. As I walk along I look up. I stop. “Oh, my isn’t that beautiful?” I say out loud to myself. The words tumble out. Goosebumps. Then I move along.
We ended up at the Plaza Mayor and then to the San Miguel Mercado again. This time we stayed.
With a glass of Rioja in hand, we went looking for a space to sit. There are long rows of tables with stools lining both sides. Young, old, families with babies in strollers, groups of friends huddled together laughing, all sorts of individuals and groups, mostly tourists from all over the world, gather to enjoy the tapas and tasty treats. Once we found a place, one stool and then another stool, we took turns going off to explore. Enrique would come back with some surprises, we‘d eat them, and then I would go off. I found a Paella stand with six or seven variations. Enrique stopped at the Olive Bar. Amazing “Olive Kebobs.” I had to go to the Mozzarella Bar. It took me a while to find it. The eating was fun but it was the sitting there amid the flow of people that made Sunday afternoon and evening in Madrid special. After three hours, we were ready to leave but first Enrique went looking for a special dessert to share. “Milhojas” -- a thousand leaves -- which is a delicate dessert of flaky pastry filled with lush cream.
We quietly walked back to our hotel. We stopped to talk to the Concierge. We bought tickets to the Prado Museum for Monday.
It was drizzly. A perfect day for museums. With tickets in hand, we walked past the very long line of people waiting, and were shaking off our umbrellas and moving through security in no time. We entered the main hall. The Prado is huge. Second largest museum in the world next to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Wow. We turned around and went looking for a guide, not just the recorded tour, but a live person. We had a wonderful four hours at the Prado. We went back to our hotel to rest a while and then we went out walking again.
We had wanted to go to the Reina Sofia Museum but as we looked at our map, it seemed too far away. So just went walking the narrow streets again. Can never do that too much. Before we realized it, we were only a block away from the Reina Sofia. It’s a beautiful museum. The main building was once a hospital and now it’s a museum of eclectic art with an emphasis on Modern Art. We focused on Cubism. Why? Well, it was close to where we had entered, but once we went into the first exhibition hall, we focused on Cubism because it was an intriguing exhibit.
It was 8:00 when we returned to the street and to our walk. We had dinner plans with friends. We would meet at 9:15. Our friends are Colombians living here in Madrid. Mario, is a marvelous chef and owner of two very successful restaurants in the Metro Centro area of the city. His husband, Juan Pablo, a relative of Enrique’s, is a very successful architect. We had dinner at “Hortencio.” Only Juan Pablo, Enrique, and I sat at the table. Mario was busy preparing an incredible meal for us. A delicate Morel Mushroom soup, Morel Mushrooms garnished with foie gras or egg (egg for me), and I had “La Soup aux Trufa,” which Mario prepared as an homage to the deceased famous French Chef, Paul Bocuse, who first presented this soup on February 25, 1975. It was delicious beyond words. Enrique had a tender lamb dish that was sensational. A dab of Pistachio ice cream added the exclamation point to a culinary delightful evening.
The day was full, and it was wonderful. In the morning we’d be off to Sevilla.
Bumper-to-bumper movement or none at all, we were caught in a traffic jam at the Yumbo Roundabout on our way to the airport in Cali, Colombia. We arrived just as our flight was scheduled to leave. My cellular buzzed with an announcement. Our flight was also delayed. Mechanical trouble, a new plane was en route. Mechanical trouble or magic? I dispelled my building anxiety with a smile.
From Cali to Bogotá with a four hour layover that became two and a half hours, we were off on our overnight to Madrid. We disembarked at 1:30 Saturday afternoon. Friday afternoon we were caught in traffic and less than 24 hours later we were in Madrid. I know it’s a cliche but travel still fascinated me. Thanks to many moving sidewalks, escalators, and trains, we move from gate to immigration and then to baggage claim easily. Waiting for luggage, my anxieties always stir. Today they were broken by a voice.
“Are you from Cali?” I turned to see a young woman with a beautiful smile standing there with who appeared to be her mother.
“Yes.” Maybe I said, “Sí,” not sure.
“I think you’re our neighbor.” She speaks excellent English; very little accent. I wished my Spanish had been that good. “You have two Vizslas, right?”
“Yes! Abbie and Lucas!”
There is only one other Vizsla in our neighborhood. It’s hers. We each knew each other’s dogs -- our kids -- now we met face to face at baggage claim in Madrid. What a world. It was a nice wink as our journey got underway. Rental car picked up, GPS’ed to the hotel with only one missed turn and route correction, and we were resting in our room. After just resting a few hours, knowing better than to go to sleep in the daylight, we bundled up, it was in the low 50’s out there by 6:00 p.m., we headed out walking.
I find Madrid to be a fascinating city, more than most. There is something in the resonance, in the lay of the land, in the architecture of the buildings, in the green trees that line the streets and fill the parks, and in the energy of the people, that is mysterious and intriguing at the same moment. I just love walking the streets and just love looking, looking at everything. It fills me; I feel alive as I walk and look and listen. I think there just might be a common denominator of caring. I don’t think everyone cares about this city, but I think enough people do care, and care with a Latin sense of immediacy and passion, that it makes a difference. Madrid is a different city. Sure there’s some graffiti on the walls of vacant buildings or run down doorways, but not much. Otherwise the streets and the buildings and the windows are amazingly clean. There is a pride along with the caring and I think that matters.
We walked along these delightfully narrow stone slab streets. They are wide enough for single lane car traffic by day but in the evenings pedestrians take them over. Oh, occasionally cars come, but they move meticulously slow and with great caution. People own the streets as the sun sets. Street lights and shop lights and restaurant lights fill the night along with the chatter and laughter of hundreds of people coming alive and filling the nights.
Along the way, we encountered a group of men practicing for an upcoming Easter procession. During Semana Santa -- Easter Week -- there are many parades or processions where people carry huge religious statues for miles and miles. So they practice ahead of time. There were six rows of men. Four per row. They were marching slowly and in precision with each step in unison. They had a wood platform resting on their shoulders. On top of the platform were concrete blocks with a total weight equal to that of the statue they will carry during Semana Santa. See the accompanying photo.
It was early. We walked and meandered for almost an hour making our way along those narrow walkways through several plazas until we reached Plaza Mayor. It’s famous. A tourist attraction. And it’s still grand and majestic and warm and friendly. We found a restaurant and had an easy dinner of tapas and sangria. It was 10:15 when we walked out into the Plaza again. The night was now fully underway. Restaurants were full. Outdoor cafes under blazing gas heaters were full. Rapid fire talking and laughter and an occasional shrill laugh, the night was sizzling.
We walked through the Plaza to the San Miguel Mercado on the far side. Also famous. Also a destination for most tourists, and also a must stop place. It was after 10:00 and people were streaming out. We thought they must be closing.
Oh no. No way were they closing. The places was abuzz with hundreds of people. Four deep standing around a wine bar here or a sangria bar over there. People carrying plates piled high with tapas or other hors d’oeuvres were weaving their way through the jam of people. No, no one was closing. The night had just begun.
San Miguel Mercado is not a farmer’s market or a grocery store. It is an enclosed building with hundreds of vendors: I saw a Mozzarella Bar selling countless culinary treats with mozzarella and buffalo mozzarella, and each was an intricate creation. There were all sorts of tapas vendors, and salad vendors, and ... there was one display of tapas made with olives, just olives of all kinds, olives adorned with all kinds of delicacies.
We slowly made our way through the growing crowds of people. Everyone was smiling, laughing, celebrating, and eating. To me, this is Madrid. This is Spain. As we left the market and walked back through Plaza Mayor, we realized we’d left our street map in the restaurant. We used it to find our way to the Plaza and Market. We were on our own to walk back. A few wrong turns, but soon enough we were at our hotel. We stopped in the lounge for a night cap. Our first day of our road trip complete, now we could go to bed.
4:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. I am lying on a futon with a hard pillow behind my head and a thick down comforter covering me. There is a chill in the air. Sweet. To my right there is a wall of window. In the predawn light, the window frame seems a picture frame that’s framing a Japanese wood block print. Dark gray sky, white cloud mountains and silhouetted trees, stark as if they had been cut out of black construction paper. Beautiful harbinger of the day to come.
Monday was our final day in Tokyo. We went to the Senso Ji or Asakusa Temple. We arrived at the temple gate at 11:00 and it took us 90 minutes to finally enter the actual temple. The walkway and the side streets are lined with hundreds of tiny tourist shops, and there were thousands of people milling about. It was great fun. We bought chop sticks and I bought some postcards. The temple is a Buddhist Temple and the oldest one in Tokyo. The surrounding area is “old Tokyo” offering a view of what Tokyo once was. Enchanting. Charming.
I felt more at home here. Not sure why. It was crowded, hectic, and loud . . . very different than the Meiji Shrine with its elegant and majestic grounds.
Anyway, I had a great time at the Temple and I really enjoyed walking the narrow streets of the surrounding neighborhood. We continued strolling those
narrow street until we found a wonderful lunch place, “Goroku,.” We had what we called Japanese Tapas. I had Assorted Tempura, Pork Rolls, Crab Coquettes,
along with a glass of red wine. Everything was delicious. Ready to go again, we continued walking the area and finally caught a taxi to head to another
part of town for the evening.
40 minutes later we were in a glitzy part of town called Kabukicho in the area called Shinjuku. Bright colorful neon flashing lights. Young, fast paced,
alive. Street barkers encouraging people to eat at this restaurant or to take in that show. The taxi driver got us as close as he could and it was
fun walking the pedestrian streets looking for “Robot Restaurant.” Up this street, down that one, turn left there and then right, we finally found
it. Huge sign nearly 30 feet long. Wow.
We went to the Robot Restaurant for the show. It is not a restaurant and as it turned out it wasn’t really a show, or at least not something I would call
a show. It was the worst “show” I’ve ever seen. The only saving grace was that it was so bad that it was funny, and I was curious to see just how bad
it would be. How bad was it? The bottom.
As we left I smiled and thought about how our universe, a reflection of something more real, expresses itself as a duality. We have experiences the ups,
and now the downs of Tokyo. It’s time to move on.
Tuesday morning we had gone to Tokyo Station and waited on Platform 17 to take the noon Bullet Train to Kyoto. We arrived mid-afternoon at our hotel —
Gion Hatanaka Ryokan. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese county inn. This one is beautiful. Minimalistic in design with an elegant ambiance. We had
a traditional Japanese dinner served in our room. Several courses, each a work of art as well as a delicious dish — haute cuisine of nine courses.
Beautiful. After dinner our server set up the futon beds, and we went down to the public baths on the lower level of the Ryokan. We will move to a
Western hotel today but we wanted to have one night at a place like this.
It’s now 7:30 a.m. I am still looking out my window. My “Japanese Wood Block” painting has shifted now to become a lush green morning with a soft blue sky. There’s a rainbow arching between the trees. Yes, a beautiful day to come. Our Japanese breakfast will arrive at 8:30 and we will discover what the days holds.
Tokyo is huge and the architecture is fascinating. What seems obvious really became more obvious Sunday morning as we made our way to Ropongi and then to Ropongi Hills, a trendy area of the city not far from our hotel. Near the Grand Hyatt, we got our tickets and took the elevator up 52 floors to the City View — a round glass enclosed observation room with a small cafe, a museum, and incredible views — stunning views — of Tokyo. It was another crisp morning, about 60 degrees F, and the winds were gusting, but the sky was powerfully blue. The city sparkled. Towering buildings, patches of green parks, low warehouses and storage buildings down by the piers, and the deep blues of the seemingly endless bay. Captivating. We were there for more than an hour.
Then we explored the rest of that 52nd floor. There were scale models of the city that filled the side rooms. As many as 30 people at a time stood silently peering over the lucite walls marveling at the detail or identifying neighborhoods and buildings. On the walls, decade by decade descriptions of the development of the modern city of Tokyo. It was all in Japanese, but it was impressive even to my eye. The display in any language, was beautiful.
Finally we left the City View and explored Ropongi Hills. It was Sunday morning and already the foot traffic was building. Yes, a huge city with an increasingly huge population. We found a restaurant for an early lunch and then planned to head out to the Meiji Shrine.
Previously at the hotel when we inquired about the Imperial Palace, the attendant at the front desk took a post-it size paper and wrote the words “Imperial Palace” in Japanese characters. Often taxi drivers don’t know the English names of their shrines and tourist attractions. So rather than pointing to a location on a city map, we gave the driver the paper. Easy. Elegant.
We asked the waiter to write “Meiji Shrine.” Smiling broadly, he returned with a small paper and it said, “I would like to go to the Meiji Shrine,” in characters. We were off in the easy flow of traffic to some other part of the city and one of the most famous and most popular Shrines in Tokyo.
We stood several long minutes at the Gate, the 40 feet tall entrance to the grounds of the Shine. Amazing. Almost immediately we felt the reverence; others did too. As we made our way along the walkway, I listened to the “music.” The crunch of gravel underfoot as hundreds of people walked the pathways in silence that was accentuated as kids intentionally shuffled along. Shush, shush, shush. The call of the ravens in the trees that, at times, swooping low overhead. A soft whisper of a breeze playing in the trees. It all added to majesty of the place and to the honor of the procession of people making their way to the Shrine of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken.
The Emperor Meiji is credited with bringing Japan out of the feudal system and out of over 200 years of isolation. He is credited with introducing Western technology and culture to Japan. He lifted Japan into economic viability and vitality as he ended the Edo Era and as he opened Japan to a new world in which the old structures — structures that needed to be replaced — broke down making room for a new way of living and a new way of being. It felt appropriate to be walking the pathways to the Shrine.
The buildings weren’t that impressive, but the energy was. The several original buildings, some still being restored, were traditional Japanese, Shinto. Practical. Symbolic. Not intended to dazzle. This temple is where the souls of Meiji and his wife are enshrined. There’s a reverence and a reverie here that supersedes the physical design. There is a presence here that is available without being imposing.
Meiji and Shoken wrote “Wakas.” They are 31 syllable Japanese poems intended to offer subtle insight or guidance to living a better life. Meiji wrote over 100,000 of them; Shoken wrote 30,000. I purchased two. I reached into the box and dug around and picked one Waka for me and another for our Asia Excursion.
My Waka: “We shall fall behind our fellows in the world if, when we should advance, we make no move at all.” — Emperor Meiji
I smiled thinking about how God/Goddess/All That Is — God, Goddess — are continually growing, becoming more. Our souls and Higher Selves are continually growing and becoming more. If we aren’t, we are falling behind. I like the phrase, “when we should advance.”
The Waka for our journey: “As clear and refreshing as the rising sun — thus might it always be with the human heart.” — Emperor Meiji
Okay, so I am going to begin each morning of our journey through Asia, with my heart open to the refreshing clarity of a sunrise. Focus on the light of a new dawn, of a new day. Always.
It was a magical afternoon. From the Shrine we walked the grounds. The call of the ravens was loud and persistent. One raven swooped low and landed on a fence. We chatted for a bit and then he flew off. We walked on.
The public access to the Shrine closed at 4:00 and we along with hundreds of people began meandering our way toward the gate. Around 4:30 we move with the steady flow of people through the narrow exit. Ahead of us, a grand boulevard of shops: modern shops, old shops, simple shops, and high end shops. Ahead of us, thousands of people strolling along the sidewalks, sidewalks that are 10 to 12 feet wide and the people are moving like an undulating human river. Amazing. Intriguing. It was Sunday early evening and there were throngs of people walking this shopping highway. I got a photo.
We walked or flowed with the crowd for nearly a half hour. It was our “grounding time.” Hailing a taxi, we made our way back to the New Otani Hotel, Garden Tower. A fine day. A quiet night.
Arriving in Tokyo in the evening was a fortunate change in our plans imposed by the airline. I had made our reservations to leave SFO at 2:00 a.m. on November 2 and we were scheduled to arrive in Tokyo at 5:00 a.m. Wasn’t sure what we would do from 5:00 a.m. until we could check into our hotel, but I figured we could handle it. It was Cathay Pacific or JAL that changed the schedule and our departure was pushed forward 14 hours to 4:00 p.m. Arriving in the evening was great because we could be awake for only a few more hours and then sleep. Nice.
Immigration was so easy and baggage claim was fast. Through customs in a breeze, our driver was there with my name spelled correctly. We arrived at the New Otani Hotel and were in our room by 9:00 p.m. Peggy, Enrique’s mother, had flown in from Rome and had arrived mid-afternoon. The hotel restaurants close at 10:00. We rushed down to the restaurant for my last “western meal.” I had a juicy square hamburger with all the imaginable trimmings. $25.00. Ha! I know prices are high in huge cities. I knew prices were high in Tokyo and all of Japan. Still. It’s a bit of shock. $25.00 for a hamburger? $8.50 for a soft drink in a glass?
In Cuba I expected to find only the facades of old buildings and vintage cars. I did. In Tokyo I expected to find high prices. I did and I am continuing to find high prices.
However I didn’t expect to encounter people who are so courteous and so very kind. Gentle people who seem eager to help tourist such as us. Several times we stood looking both curiously and helplessly at our maps. Each time someone came up and quietly bowed and asked if we they could help. Some spoke English fluently with excellent pronunciation while others struggled to find the words and to pronounce them correctly. But each was patient and helpful.
I also didn’t expect to find such a clean city. No litter. None. Really. None. No graffiti (so far?) and the buildings seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. The white bricks were still white. Not darkened by auto exhaust and other air pollution. No paper in the gutters. No cigarette butts. Clean everywhere. We walked quite a bit in the Akasaka area: narrow old streets, tiny shops, many restaurants with secluded doorways, and not a speck of litter anywhere. I didn’t expect to see the streets and the buildings so clean. And then there’s the architecture . It’s wonderfully creative and inventive. Okay, I expected that.
I didn’t expect the tranquility that I felt. I mean, Tokyo is a huge city with all kinds of traffic and highways creating a crisscross maze of concrete. I expected the hectic frenzy of New York City or Bogota or even Cali, Colombia. But no. Loads of traffic but it was all moving in a quiet orderly fashion. Thousands of people, many with those white masks covering mouth and nose, but everyone walking casually and minding the walk-don’t walk signs. There was one intersection where each road was six lanes wide. The cross walks created an X in the intersection. All the lights turned red simultaneously. All traffic stopped. Silence. Suddenly streams of people from all four corners walked in all directions: straight ahead, left or right, or diagonally criss crossed through the middle of the intersection. A massive flow of humanity in confluence. It was orderly. No pushing, no shoving, no congestion, just easy flow. A dance. It was quite beautiful.
The people, the landscaping and architecture, and the tranquility . . . there is something delightful and mysterious about this city. We will be here for four days before taking the Bullet Train to Kyoto. I am eager to explore this city before going to that one. Our Asia Excursion is only 3 days old and already . . . yes, it’s going to be a magic journey.
Friday: Late morning with a walk across the street to find a breakfast place. Found a delightful restaurant called Starbucks. [s] Yeah, all the Japanese restaurant were closed until 11:00 a.m. when they opened for lunch. Starbucks for a coffee and a spinach quiche, then we walked for several hours finding a local lunch place. After lunch we went to the Imperial Palace. We anticipated a going on a tour of the palace. Not so. There are tours of the grounds but none that actually go into the palace. Disappointed we walked to the Ginza area and found the department store Food Court and were astounded. We bought fruit, cheese, crackers — dinner for Friday night.
Saturday: After a Japanese breakfast at the hotel, we went on a 4 hour tour of the city and ended up at the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. It is a beautiful garden rich in greenery and powerful in tranquility. We walked for nearly an hour, and then we made our way back to the hotel. We had dinner reservations at Tajimaya Ginza. We had Sukiyaki . . . . incredible. The food, the service, the ambiance, the entire evening was memorable — an incredible moment that lasted nearly 3 hours linearly. Forever beyond the linear.
What does tomorrow hold?
What was that amazing smell? It was seductive for sure. I made my way through the Food Court at Mitsukoshi, the department store in the Ginza area of Tokyo. It was the bread department and the scent of warm fresh bread was almost overpowering. I had never smelled such sensational smells. Amazing. Sensuous scents. The experience on this Friday afternoon was definitely enhanced by the whole of the food court. It wasn’t like food courts in the US. No Burger King or pizza place or even a noodle shop. The foods were prepared as works of art. Usually I don’t take many photos and I seldom take photos of food. This was an exception.
Enrique and I had been planning our Asia Excursion for nearly a year. Initially it was my idea and I suggested that we invite Peggy, Enrique’s mother, to join us. Over the months, what began as a cruise of Malaysia that started and ended in Singapore and included Viet Nam and Thailand grew into visiting Bali again. Of course. We’ll stay at the Komaneka at Bisma again and we will have a day tour with our favorite Balinese guide from the last time. Of course. Oh, and yes, we need to spend some time in Hong Kong. It was late in the planning that we added Japan — Tokyo and Kyoto. We sneaked it in ahead of Hong Kong and our excursion began November 2 — a few days after the San Francisco Bay Area intensive.
The workshop ended Sunday, October 30. We stayed on at the Pullman Hotel because on November 1 Lazaris would be recording an online workshop to be released before year’s end. We finalized our packing that evening and we flew from SFO to Tokyo on Wednesday, November 2, at 4:00 p.m. and we arrived Thursday evening in Tokyo. It was an 11 hour flight with a 16 hour time change, and it was also an elegant way to begin our six week excursion.
From time to time I will be posting messages here. Today it’s food. The horizons will expand but I just couldn’t help it. I had to send off these photos.
It wasn’t out of pity; it was out of admiration. It’s another long weekend in Colombia — un puente fin de semana — “a bridge weekend.”
Friday we drove to Periera, a city in “el Eje Cafetero,” the coffer growing area. It’s not a pretty city but it’s popular as a party town with a reputation. (What happens in Pereira …). With a population of about a million people, and many more tourists, it sits at edge of the middle range of the Andes Mountains. It shares the region with Armenia, Santa Rosa, Manizales, and Medellin. We are staying two blocks from the historical center, Plaza Bolivar. Friday evening, a gentle breeze rolling in from the mountains, a clear night, a night quietly bustling with locals, we walked the plaza and the adjoining streets.
Dinner around 10:30. A hotdog — perro caliente — purchased from a street vendor. Hotdog smothered in creamy slaw, melted cheese, slivered potato chips, and any number of sauces of our choosing. Big, messy, delicious. We sat on high plastic stools on the sidewalk. Eating. Watching the passebys. Lovely night. Pereira.
Saturday, we walked the same route, but oh my, it was so different. The side streets swollen with vendors and alive with throngs of Colombia tourists, a few street musicians, and here and there sad beggars and homeless people. All the stores were overflowing with shoppers. While popping in and out of stores, we managed to located two interesting restaurants and a night club that would have live music for the evening. Found a few shirts. Pereira is know for certain nefarious things, but it is also know for manufacturing clothes.
After lunch, along one of the less busy side streets, among the old men talking of politics, of the state of the world, of the state of their family, or of the past that has slipped way as that sat in the shade of buildings and of the occasional tree lining the walkway, I notice a young family: mother, father, young son. The father picked up a long needle between the toes of his left foot. With his right foot he steadied a tray of tiny colorful beads. Carefully, he guided the needle through the tiny holes and gathered up a short line of rainbow colors. Lifting his left foot high to let gravity do its work, he then moved his foot with needle still between his toes, and transferred the line of color to a tiny loom. With his right big toe, he held the loom steady and then used that same toe to move the bead in place. Tight. It was slow work. He was patient. He did all this meticulous work with his feet and toes because he had no arms.
I bought the piece in the photo. It wasn’t out of pity; it was out of admiration. The human spirit. I marvel at it. I cherish it. It deserves to be cherished. Its persistence gives me hope.When I remember the beauty and the power of the human spirit that can, at times, be undaunted by the rigors of life or in the face of manipulations by those who would attempt to take power away or those who demand to be in control, I embrace my spirit and find a renewed sense of determination. I can’t string beads with my toes, but I can be the magician that I am.
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